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The power of paranoia in It Comes At Night

While many people have made no secret of their eagerness to get out of the house and return to a sense of engagement in society, I began to wonder what a pandemic would look like if we had no choice in the matter? 

Or, the better question may be, how would people react?

This week, I decided to give myself a bit of a fright with a horror flick that hits just too close to home. It Comes At Night, a film produced by A24 and Animal Kingdom, was released in theaters in 2017.

I actually saw this film when it was on the big screen and personally, I was not disappointed. Several theater-goers left upset, blaming a misleading trailer for making them think It Comes At Night would be a straightforward scary movie.

The movie boasts a gripping score, commanding performances and a tight screenplay that all points more toward a psychological thriller rather than horror. The first viewing I went in fairly blind, having only seen a teaser, so I was pleasantly surprised with a suspenseful, terrifying viewing experience unlike the standard.

It Comes At Night focuses on a family of three who live in a secluded cabin in the middle of unknown woods, forced into isolation by an unnamed outbreak that has rendered “normalcy” useless. We meet the patriarch, Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) – all of whom navigate their quarantine routines with increased paranoia as the first scene catapults them all into further heightened, emotional events.

As tensions rise, Paul is determined to protect the ones he loves and forge an impenetrable stronghold. When they are met with a younger family composed of Will (Christopher Abbott), Kim (Riley Keough) and Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), the bounds of defense are loosened.

Currently, the film is available to stream on Netflix. It Comes At Night is an eerie watch, and upon my second viewing I found it more frightening because of its implications. As characters grappled with the mysterious, unpredictable environment around them, I was struck by how a future can be so derailed by an almost cosmic horror that creeps without warning – paranoia.

Without delving into spoilers, there are some moments that could be improved in terms of direction and pacing. However, overall I was kept engaged by the plot and circumstances playing out before me.

Characters, richly written and expertly played, don’t typically navigate their setting wearing face masks – but that doesn’t mean they are never used. Sanitation (especially in the middle of the woods) isn’t easy to come by, but quarantine measures are still in place as Paul attempts to safeguard their desolate home, fraught with scarce resources and black nights – which come with their own set of complications.

Faced with the fear of losing their main purpose for living: their loved ones, the protagonists treat everything – every plant, every animal, every noise – as a threat.

It Comes At Night manages to get in your head, and I was still drawn to watch it despite what is going on in the country around us. The audience is left questioning the characters, doubting them all, wondering their motives. Does all of this sound familiar?

We have become accustomed to the socially-distant measures of COVID-19, but the paranoia of reality is not all too far off from the paranoia that comes in the unflinching, bleak world of this film.

Film: It Comes At Night
Year: 2017
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Psychological Thriller
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted) for violence, disturbing images and language.
Currently available to watch/stream on Netflix
Dir. by Trey Edward Shults
Written by Trey Edward Shults

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